Primavera wants pink-ribbon license plates to raise money as well as cancer awareness

By Elizabeth Stortroen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

If your car has idled at a stoplight behind a car with pink-lettered “Committed to a Cure” vanity license plates, perhaps you assumed that part of the money that went to purchase them helped fund breast cancer research or treatment.

If so, you assumed wrong.

“I think most people are appalled when they discover that not one cent from (the breast cancer license plates) goes to treat breast cancer or prevent breast cancer,” said Rep. Dianne Primavera, D-Broomfield, co-sponsor with Sen. Ken Kester, R-Las Animas, of House Bill 1164.

If it passes, the bill would add a $25 surcharge to the current $50 cost of buying the plates and renewing them annually.

Currently, money from the “Committed to a Cure” plates — like money from the purchase of other Colorado vanity plates — goes into the Highway Users Tax Fund to help fund highway construction and maintenance.

Under HB 1164, money from the proposed surcharge would create a fund designated for the Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment Act, which provides treatment for low- to moderate-income women in Colorado who are uninsured or underinsured.

The proposed surcharge, however, isn’t being embraced by the people who first proposed adding breast-cancer awareness to the long list of causes promoted on Colorado’s vanity license plates.

In 2005, Lone Tree resident Carol Hickman suggested to then-Rep. Alice Borodkin, D-Denver, that she carry a bill to create the pink-ribboned vanity license plates solely as a way to promote breast-cancer awareness — and not as a way to fund cancer research or treatment.

“We wanted to raise awareness about breast cancer so people would see the license plates and want to get involved,” said Borodkin. “I fear that — with this added surcharge — we will end up losing our license plates altogether. There has already been a 53 percent decline in monthly plates obtained since last fall.”

Hickman says an extra $25 charge is apt to discourage purchase of the plates.

“We are already going to see a rise in our yearly cost for our cars to $41 with FASTER,” Hickman said. “So, what I fear is that $75 is going to be too much for people to pay for a pink license plate in these hard economic times.

“Our entire purpose will be lost, and people will stop purchasing or renewing these plates,” she said.

Primavera, however, sees HB 1164 as a potential source of money to help low-income women obtain treatment for breast cancer.

“This fight started about two years ago, when a woman approached me and said she had breast cancer, but could not get treatment because of the Medicaid-restricted eligibility,” Primavera said. “She has since died of breast cancer because she was diagnosed at the wrong clinic, which she was not informed about at the time.”

“I want to stop other women from falling through the cracks,” she said.

Currently, the Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment Act covers only women who are diagnosed through one of the state’s Women Wellness Connection providers.

However, the WWC network reaches fewer than 20 percent of eligible women in Colorado. And, if a woman’s diagnosis comes from a non-WWC clinic or physician, she will be denied care under the Treatment Act.

The added surcharge would create a fund so money will directly go to treatment of breast cancer. The fund will also receive enhanced federal matching funds, which is $1.86 per $1.00 contributed to the fund for the provision of these services.

“In a year where the budget is tight and more programs are getting cut than saved, we thought this would be a better way to raise money, rather than costing the state money it cannot afford to spend,” Primavera said.

But the large fiscal note attached to this bill may cause some problems.

It’s estimated that the first-year expenses for the new fund from the surcharge money is projected at $309,000, and ongoing expenses are estimated at $50,000, which makes opponents to HB 1164 skeptical that the surcharge can raise any money at all.

Hickman said she disagrees with allocating a surcharge because the money that is being set up in the fund is not accessible immediately to help women and will go only toward treatment of breast cancer.

“What if I want my money to go toward research and prevention — and not just treatment?” Hickman asked. “I think it is important for people to be able to choose what organization they donate to and also what amount they donate. It should be a personal choice not one forced on you.”

Hickman also noted that in other states where similar pink vanity license plates have been introduced, those who buy them pay extra only at purchase, not for annual renewal. For example, in Massachusetts, Ohio and Indiana, funds from vanity-plate sales are set aside for programs to provide breast-cancer assistance and education.

But Primavera would like to stop misleading Coloradans who may believe that money they spend on the plates has been supporting breast cancer research.

“I am shocked and feel betrayed that no monies went to the breast cancer foundation after myself and others purchased the breast cancer license plates in hope to help the breast
cancer fund,” said Teresa Bauerle, of Denver, who bought a pink vanity plate in 2006.

“Personally, as a woman, I do not mind supporting breast cancer. So I do not mind that there would be additional $25 surcharge,” Bauerle said.

HB 1164 passed unanimously through the Transportation and Energy Committee on Feb. 12 and is set for a vote in House Appropriations on Friday, March 6.

Beth@coloradostatesman.com